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The Science of Thanksgiving
Ahhh Thanksgiving: that glorious celebration of hedonism in honor of our foremothers and forefathers. What a wonderful way to pay homage!
That could be sarcasm, but for once it is not. (Though it is easy to poke fun at a holiday marked by excessive consumption followed by napping.) The way I see it the hedonic quality of the day has the potential to be a positive thing. I know it doesn’t sound that way, but hear me out. There is some science to what I am saying.
Hedonism is, by definition, the belief that pleasure and happiness are the most important goals in life. This doesn’t sound so bad by itself, but hedonism is often associated with self-centered excessive behaviors in the quest for happiness. That is the downfall part. Happiness is a matter of perspective and some people are bound to overdo it.
In psychology there is a theory related to this called hedonic adaptation. In laymen’s terms it goes something like this. Everyone has a baseline of happiness. We hit that baseline by doing what we always do. If we experience significant positive or negative things it will impact our level of happiness, but only so long as those things do not become the norm. If they do become the norm (doing what we always do), we acclimate and that new normal becomes what is needed to achieve base happiness. It is a bit like jumping into a pool. Even if it seemed cold at first, you get used to the water.
This of course begs the question, if we always return to a stasis then how do we achieve greater happiness? One sure way is to actively plan out positive experiences that break normal patterns. This is where Thanksgiving fits in.
Not only is Thanksgiving an invitation to break from our normal routine, there is an increasing body of research pointing to gratitude as a vehicle for happiness. It is being found that people who consistently practice gratitude have lower blood pressure, higher immune systems, feel less isolated and experience more optimism, joy and happiness. That’s right – when on a hedonistic quest for pleasure and happiness it will serve your purpose to show appreciation for what you have and those who helped you out along the way!
I encourage everyone, when you get together with family and friends this week (and in your everyday), raise the bar. Make sure the people in your life that matter hear that from you. Tell a story of how someone right there at the table made a positive influence on you. Make a poster of things you are thankful for and invite everyone to add to it. Let grace last the whole meal instead of hold up dinner. Most of all, let your quest for happiness be laced with gratitude.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!
I hope that this letter has found you and yours in good spirits and good health. Until I write again…